By Paul Dobbyn
BRISBANE archdiocese’s vicar general Monsignor Peter Meneely and Jubilee parish priest Fr Peter Brannelly, who started their seminary studies together 32 years ago, agree the priesthood has been “a great adventure with many surprises”.
One delightful surprise for both men has been a friendship which has flourished right through to the silver jubilees they recently celebrated together.
Former Brisbane Auxiliary Bishop John Gerry was principal celebrant at their Jubilee Mass, at St Brigid’s Church, Red Hill, on February 9. In his homily, Bishop Gerry described the two men as “apostolic twins and clerical evangelical entrepreneurs”.
Bishop Gerry, by way of example, spoke of Fr Brannelly’s achievements in bringing together diverse parishes to form the united parish of Jubilee.
The bishop, who had once been vicar of the social welfare vicariate, said Msgr Meneely had taken on four vicariates when made the archdiocese’s moderator in 2000.
Msgr Meneely said he and Fr Brannelly were among 14 young men who started studies at Pius XII Provincial Seminary, Banyo, in early 1982.
“Of these, five were ordained and three of us have continued in ministry,” he said.
“Peter Brannelly and I are fortunate to have often been in close enough proximity to have continued the friendship over the years.”
Fr Brannelly described their friendship as “providential”.
“We started at the seminary on the same day and 32 years later we’re still going on journeys that have intersected and crisscrossed in ways we could never have planned or thought of,” he said.
As well as starting in the seminary together, both were ordained in Fr Brannelly’s home parish of Upper Mt Gravatt in 1989 as St Stephen’s Cathedral was closed for restorations.
Both men embarked on pastoral journeys differing vastly from their initial visions of what the priesthood held in store.
“When first ordained I never expected to end up working in the Church’s administration and as the archdiocese’s vicar general,” Msgr Meneely said.
“My biggest hope to begin with was I would one day be a parish priest, having the opportunity of working amongst the people of God and all the fulfilment and blessings that brings in life.
“I wouldn’t have envisaged that I would become so closely involved in the administration of the archdiocese – this was certainly a surprise … and a real blessing in my life.
“Priesthood must always be characterised by a willingness to be available to serve in whatever way the Church requires at the time.”
Fr Brannelly’s biggest surprise, one which had a profound impact on his priestly formation, was being permitted by then Brisbane Archbishop John Bathersby to minister to the mission parish of St John’s-Basseterre in the West Indies.
“To go as a 30-year-old priest, to be generously welcomed and trusted by people in a totally different culture, was a wonderful gift and very humbling,” he said. “I had the opportunity to experience another form of ministry other than running a large Australian parish.
“I found a different expression of faith amongst people who often didn’t have much else but faith to hold onto.
“I also had the fun and challenge of raising money to build a new church and in some cases helping to rebuild churches damaged by hurricanes.”
Msgr Meneely said naming highpoints in his priesthood thus far was difficult, “because of the many marvellous opportunities received”.
However, his involvement in the archdiocese’s overseas priests program over the past six years had been among the most significant.
“There are probably a lot of very interesting and fulfilling things I’ve done,” he said.
“But of all the experiences, this is the one which has changed and enriched my priesthood the most profoundly.
“Particularly visiting Africa and India … I’ve been so enriched by the Church in that part of the world.
“I’ve also had the opportunity to observe and experience the richness of faith and life these men have brought to the Church of Brisbane.”
Both Msgr Meneely and Fr Brannelly spoke similarly of the way the priesthood had fulfilled all the hopes they had for their lives.
“The priesthood has given me opportunities that no other vocation could have given,” Fr Brannelly said. “The diverse parishes, friendships made, sharing with people some of the most profound moments of their life journey … all have been a great privilege.”
Msgr Meneely said the priesthood “has fulfilled all my best hopes for my life”.
“It has provided the most marvellous opportunity to share in God’s work in our time,” he said. “I am indeed grateful for all the blessings I have received over the years as a priest.”